Friday, July 24, 2009

Nature vs. Nurture: A False Dichotomy

One often encounters in the study of psychology the claim that human actions are the product of two (and only two) competing forces: nature and nurture. On the one hand, proponents of the nature view suggest that human beings are reacting primarily to the contents of their genetic structure. In this perspective, genes tell you everything you need to know about a person. Conversely, the nurture view suggests that human beings cannot operate beyond their upbringing and environment and that it is, in fact, these external forces that are responsible for our actions.

Both perspectives obfuscate the requirement of individual responsibility by ignoring the fact of volition.

Human decision-making is a fundamentally volitional process. Men cannot act on instinct; every action begins in a man’s mind and is deliberately chosen. The genetic structure of an individual provides certain influences – or factors – that must be taken into account in the ultimate decision to act in a certain way. For example, a strong genetic propensity towards diabetes might lead an individual to treat sugars in a way that one without such a propensity would not. However, a propensity towards diabetes does not produce automatic action; it merely provides the individual with an important factor to consider when reaching a decision to act.

Nurture cannot provide us with automatic action either. External stimuli are facts of reality to be perceived, evaluated, and considered in the process of decision-making. And they certainly do exert themselves upon us. But conceptual organisms cannot respond to these stimuli mechanically. In the same way as with genetic predispositions, humans must integrate these environmental factors into the overall structure of their thought process. Consequently, the fact of volition remains essential.

Those who point to individuals with relatively poor brain functioning as examples of the primacy of nature are missing the point. Differences of intelligence among individuals are differences of degree and not of kind. As such, these individuals are still fundamentally volitional organisms who require a process of thought for all their decisions.

The nurture advocates, in my estimation, are slightly closer to the mark. Education, indoctrination, and conditioning in a child’s formative period can affect his psychology and psycho-epistemology in incredibly profound ways. To a certain extent, genetic forces can direct a person’s growth and cognitive processes as well. However, the fundamental fact of volition remains unaltered. All influences in a person’s life are merely that: influences. The responsibility for weighing those factors against the facts of reality and of choosing one possible course of action among all the available alternatives rests solely – and must rest solely – on the individual.

This is the crucial fact that is ignored in the nature vs. nurture literature and is the source of this false dichotomy.

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On Those "Lefty, Liberal, Multicultural Appeasement Monkeys"

"Apologists For Evil" by Pat Condell

H/t Raph

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Reason Or Emotionalism: There Is No Middle Ground

A friend recently asked me whether it is possible to be ‘too rational.’ The following is a portion of my response:

Here's my first concern about the question: what could possibly be involved in being too (which I take to mean 'overly') logical? What would that look like? If characteristic 'x' exists in a person to a degree beyond that which is conducive to their happiness, we say that the person is 'too x' (e.g. 'too fat,' 'too aggressive,' or 'too pessimistic'). Happiness is the state of consciousness that arises from the realization of one's values. However, logic is a human being's only means of organizing perceptual data, i.e. our only way of learning about existence. Evidently, then, the pursuit of our own happiness requires learning about all different aspects of the world around us - what are the relevant facts? do these facts tell us anything about how we should act in the future? what does that mean our values should be? how ought we to pursue those values once we've identified them? etc, etc, etc. Consequently, a process of thought (to wit: a chain of reasoning) is a necessary condition for our happiness. And the more efficacious our process of thought, the better able we are to pursue and realize our values!

To put the point differently: the strict application of logic could not possibly endanger our well-being since it exists in a proportional relationship with it. If we think rationally, we can identify the facts of the world, determine our values, pursue those values effectively, and achieve our own good in our own way.

As I suggest above, the question stems from a profound misunderstanding of the role that reason plays in the human cognitive process. It is, indeed, impossible on its face for a human being to be ‘too rational.’

Since I responded to the question nearly a week ago, however, I’ve queried a few acquaintances and have discovered that the mistake is far more common that I had thought. There seems to be a general impression that a bargain can be struck between reason and some other sham faculty of awareness, whether it be intuition, revelation, or a sixth sense.

Dr. Leonard Peikoff formulates the full repercussions of striking such a bargain between reason and emotionalism with characteristic clarity:

If one attempts to combine reason and emotionalism, the principle of reason cannot be his guide, the element that defines the terms of the compromise, because reason does not permit subjective feeling to have any voice in cognitive issues. Subjective feeling, therefore, which permits anyone anything he wants, must set the terms; it must be the element that decides the role and limits of reason. Thus the ruling principle of the epistemological middle-of-the-road’er is: ‘I will consult facts and obey the rules of evidence sometimes – when I feel like it.'

Reason is an absolute. And, when it comes to the pursuit of knowledge, no compromise is possible between rationality and emotionalism.

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The Alleged Gap Between Free Trade & Economic Embargoes

A common libertarian attack on conservative foreign policy in North America consists of opposition to our government’s authority to impose economic sanctions on foreign states. Any restrictions on the potential trade partners of free citizens, advocates of this position contend, contradicts our freedom to trade value for value with other individuals while being guided by our own rational self-interest. Although I find the term to be dangerously imprecise, I will proceed by calling this perspective “libertarian isolationism” in the absence of – or in my ignorance of – a more appropriate label.

The core of libertarian isolationism is the relativistic insistence that countries against which we are not currently fighting a (“legitimate”) war are beyond the scope of our rational judgment or of our government’s mandate to interfere with. Besides implicitly equivocating between moral social structures and tyrannical ones, this perspective is tantamount to denying the existence of threats, and therefore enemies, abroad.

Those international actors whose policies are defined by the use of physical force against individuals – any individuals – of the Canadian state must be considered our enemies. This principle applies equally to threats of physical force (e.g. a state that is allied with an enemy, a state whose policy is war with our ally, or a state whose malevolent intentions regarding our country and its citizens can otherwise be established by valid evidence) as it does to actual instances of the initiation of coercion.

The principal fallacy of the isolationist view is that it drops the context of the purpose of government: the protection of individual rights from criminal infringements thereupon by both internal and external sources. A truly consistent policy of free trade forbids permitting violators or would-be violators of the basic condition required for free trade – individual liberty – to grow stronger and better equipped through trade with domestic entities.

We consider it proper to oppose the establishment of trade relationships between domestic business entities and the mafia. Why ought we to exempt foreign gangs who pose any threat whatsoever to our safety from that same standard?

Trading with enemy states represents a blatant violation of the individual rights of our people. It is of paramount importance that we do not allow isolationists to invoke freedom to criticize embargoes when the protection of liberty is the very reason that economic sanctions are justified.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Letter To Dalton McGuinty re Harmonized Sales Tax

Beginning in 2010, Dalton McGuinty's government is instituting a new tax system in Ontario which involves expanding the Provincial Sales Tax to encompass thousands of new goods and services. The program is disingenuously entitled the "Harmonized Sales Tax." To express my dissent and outrage, I sent Mr. McGuinty the following letter and I encourage everyone of a like mind on this matter to send a message as well. Please feel free to borrow my letter, either in part or in whole, while making your opinion known.

Dear Mr. Dalton McGuinty,

As a politically engaged citizen of Ontario, I am pleased to offer my support for any government initiative that aims at lessening the tax and paperwork burden on the people of our province. I find it interesting that the achievement of this rational tax reform is the guise under which Ontarians are being offered the "Harmonized Sales Tax" (HST). Regrettably, the HST plan will, in reality, distend the 8% provincial tax to include innumerable products and services that are presently – and mercifully – beyond the provincial government’s reach. As a result, it is clear that the valid objective of reforming the tax system for the benefit of Ontario’s over-taxed individuals, families, and businesses is no more than a convenient pretext that has been employed by your administration to obscure the true nature of your proposed tax plan.

Like many of your government’s policies, the HST has been initiated under a smoke screen of beneficence while truly aiming at arrogating to the state an even larger portion of the wealth of Ontario’s citizens. In essence, the “harmonization” that your government has advanced is nothing more than a massive tax hike, one that will be keenly felt by Ontarians in their purchase of basic goods and services such as hydro, gasoline, and home heating fuel, as well as in important areas like legal fees, real estate charges, and the sale of used cars. Given our province’s already inordinately high tax burden, this drastic and underhanded cash grab by your government will represent a major financial challenge to Ontario’s producers and consumers alike, especially those in the middle class. Your constituents will not tolerate this state of affairs.

Mr. McGuinty, I implore you to strike down the proposed Harmonized Sales Tax. Furthermore, as the leader of Ontario’s government, I ask that you focus your efforts on what common sense, sound economics, and the lessons of history have demonstrated time and again is most conducive to the real welfare of Canadian citizens: freedom in the economic realm. I assure you that your failure to take positive action on this matter will be reflected in the results of the next provincial election.

Please follow the link to send your own message.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Eulogy For America

The country that once elected leaders whose ideas upheld liberty now elects leaders whose sweet-sounding platitudes and woozy promises are all that is required, and whose actual, dangerous ideas need not be examined until after Election Day.

The country that defended property rights now seizes 40-percent of our income in a myriad of taxes imposed by all levels of government — with even larger levies on incomes, profits, investments, and savings on the horizon.

The country that championed capitalism now vilifies our industries, cripples them with regulations, seizes their profits, then declares that the free market has failed and government must take over.

The country that made possible the great industrial titans—the Henry Fords, Thomas Edisons, and others whose productive genius moved mankind forward—now thinks that government can run things better, and that government should own, operate, and finance our corporations, deciding which will survive and which will die, creating a new kind of soup kitchen where emaciated companies stand in a bread-line waiting for their bailout.

The country that protected the individual now protects polar bears, spotted owls, caribou, and the wilderness at the expense of human life.

The country that fought a revolution to end the abuse of power now elects politicians who wallow in power like hippos in mud, such as members of congressional subcommittees who hold hearings threatening the prosperity or very existence of American business firms, and then let the hearings end with little or no result when the hapless firms make sufficient contributions to the reelection campaigns of the congressmen.(*)

It is the mighty that have the farthest to fall. Most often, that fall is not precipitated by one great clash with the enemy but, as Mark Steyn explains, "by a thousand trivial concessions, until one day you wake up and you don't need to sign a formal instrument of surrender because you did it piecemeal."

Is it too late to slam on the emergency brakes? Observe the altruist-collectivist rhetoric of high-ranking members of the Obama administration. Or witness the moral depth of the government's representatives. Or study the soundness of the state's economic policies.

Americans are up to their necks in the quicksand of statism and the more they struggle - the more they cram their destructive 'stimulus' packages through congress and the closer they crawl to universal health care - the harder they will find it to claw back out of the mire.

Steyn's thousand trivial concessions are upon us. Tomorrow Canadians may wake up next to the world's biggest welfare state, trillions of dollars in debt and begging for the self-esteem it once deserved.

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Plus Ca Change ...

"These United States are confronted with an economic affliction of great proportions. We suffer from the longest and one of the worst sustained inflations in our national history. It distorts our economic decisions, penalizes thrift, and crushes the struggling young and the fixed-income elderly alike. It threatens to shatter the lives of millions of our people. Idle industries have cast workers into unemployment, human misery, and personal indignity. Those who do work are denied a fair return for their labor by a tax system which penalizes successful achievement and keeps us from maintaining full productivity. But, great as our tax burden is, it has not kept pace with public spending. For decades, we have piled deficit upon deficit, mortgaging our future and our children's future for the temporary convenience of the present. To continue this long trend is to guarantee tremendous social, cultural, political, and economic upheavals. You and I as individuals can, by borrowing, live beyond our means but for only a limited period of time. Why, then, should we think that collectively as a nation we are not bound by that same limitation."(*)

Whatever you say, old man.

You call it "tremendous social, cultural, political, and economic upheavals". I call it "change we can believe in".

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400,000 Murdered In Darfur ...

... And British academics are boycotting Israel?

This has been a good week for the Islamic Republic of Britain. Making all the right decisions there, boys.

H/t Darcey

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Quick Note About Blogging

Sorry for the brief period of radio silence there. Yesterday was a day spent in transit and today I'm settling in. Posting will pick up again tomorrow.

Until then, amuse yourselves with thoughts about how terribly brave (and deeply screwed) this man is.

Brass balls.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Alannah Myles: Black Velvet

In accordance with the CRTC's soon-to-be-mandated quota for Canadian content on the internet, I've been ordered by the government to submit the following song for your delectation in order to balance out the Clapton video from Thursday.


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Religious/Social Conservatism As Socialism?

Mike Brock published an interesting article today in which he endeavoured to draw a link between left-wing government interventionist ideology and religious conservatism. This link, his article seemed to imply, was socialism.

While his argument is for the most part well-reasoned, it isn't socialism that links religious conservatism with welfarism - it's statism.

Mike Brock:

Raise your hand if you think social society should have a strong morality attenuated through law.

Socialism: Yes, socialist principles of collectivism.
Ann Coulter: Yes, based on the teachings of the Bible.
Liberalism: No, morality is not the business of the state.

Raise your hand if you think citizenship should be connected to moral systems?

Socialism: Yes, those who do not accept socialism in a socialist society should not be full members therein.
Ann Coulter: Yes, those who conform to the Christian traditions of society are fuller citizens.
Liberalism: No, plurality of belief is not only acceptable, but healthy.

Raise your hand if you think adherence to moral codes are more important than outcome?

Socialism: Yes. It is preferable to have fairness than some with more and others with less.
Ann Coulter: Yes. Traditions like marriage should be maintained irrespective of any outcome.
Liberalism: Perhaps. In so far as the adherence is to the principle of respect of others equal rights.

Is one of the purposes of policing to enforce social moral codes?

Socialism: Yes. The use of police to quell political dissension and anti-social behaviour is important.
Ann Coulter: Yes. More police! More jails! Arrest people who do drugs, and engage in perverse sexual activities!
Liberalism: Absolutely not.

This evaluation of the respective positions of religious conservatives and socialists is accurate.

Taking these areas of similarity to heart, Mr. Brock reaches the following conclusion:

Social conservatives have appropriated love for liberty, but only so far as economics goes. They want lower taxes and less government services, but they want strong laws, stronger police, more jails, and bigger militaries--which ironically, end up costing as much, if not more than the social services they detest. They support the idea of “big government” while pretended to support “small government”, through a redefining of the term “big government”.

The real thread that ties welfarism to social conservatism is the idea that the government is justified in intervening in private matters for reasons other than the prevention of direct physical harm, to wit, the violation of individual rights.

However, I'm confounded by Mr. Brock's derision for strong laws, a strong police force, good jails, and big militaries since these are precisely the institutions that the government is justified for having.

Strong laws are necessary to protect individual rights. This idea should be considered in contrast to the existence of unjust laws, the extent of a law's 'justness' to be determined by employing the standard of protecting individual freedom. Violations of this standard can be witnessed in the words of opponents of homosexual marriage and the legalization of drugs. Having strong laws simply means effectively guarding the rights of our citizens and, in this way, is perfectly consonant with liberalism and freedom. Moreover, a strong police force is crucial to the defence of rights in the same way that a strong military is essential to the defence of these rights from threats from abroad.

Accordingly, Mr. Brock's comments reveal what I believe to be a particularly harmful streak in the libertarian movement: the identification of any government as bad government. Evidently, this perspective has roots in anarchism. In reality, limited government is necessary for protecting individuals from coercion. There are three legitimate government functions: protection from domestic rights-abusers through a robust police force, protection from rights-abusers abroad through a strong military, and the administration of just laws through a judiciary. Any actions taken by the government which exceed these legitimate roles can be properly identified as statist.

Before we are able to coherently defend liberty, we must identify what constitutes a violation of our rights. Leftism - the partial or complete state ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange - is a prime example of illegitimate government control. Social conservatism - the substantial centralized control over social affairs - is guilty of the same violation of liberty for the same reasons.

Mike Brock claims that welfarism and social conservatism are two sides of the same coin and, to a certain extent, this is accurate. However, that coin has not been minted with the material of socialism, which is merely another name for the left-wing ideology of intervention in the marketplace. The two sides are connected by the idea of statism and this should be the real enemy for lovers of liberty on the left and on the right.

Identifying the enemy is the first step to conquering him.

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